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Powerlifting women getting fitter mentally and physically

Anne Forden dead lifts 55 kilograms flanked by her trainer and another participant.
Anne Forden deadlifts 55 kilograms and squats 35 kilograms and said powerlifting has helped her with her depression.

ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky

Therese Pollard can deadlift just over 112 kilograms, which is considerably more than her own body weight.

Her newly-gained strength both pleases and surprises her, as it should because she's 68 years old.

"I just feels so good, so strong," Ms Pollard said.

"In my wildest dreams, I never dreamt that I would be able to squat 85-and-a-half kilograms."

Ms Pollard, a former nurse, can genuinely claim to be a powerlifter, despite her advanced years.

Therese Pollard getting the weights ready in a gymnasium.
Therese Pollard initially took up powerlifting at her son's suggestion.

ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky

Powerlifters — and they're usually under 40 — call it the "sport of strength" and it is widely known for building muscle strength, flexibility and conditioning.

It can also have significant benefits when dealing with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

A recent study found that as little as one hour of exercise per week could help prevent depression.

Helping to reduce depression

The study, led by Professor Samuel Harvey from Australia's Black Dog Institute, collected data from nearly 34,000 people over 11 years and found there was "robust" evidence that exercise can be helpful in preventing episodes of depression.

The study found that for people who did as little as one hour of regular exercise each week there was a 12 per cent decrease in the likelihood of them developing an episode of depression.

"If we all exercised for an hour a week then the frequency of depression in the population at large would be considerably decreased," clinical director at the Black Dog Institute Dr Josephine Anderson said.

Therese Pollard doing the dead lift.
Therese Pollard, 68, can dead lift 112.5 kilograms and squat 85.5 kilograms and is hoping to beat the national record for her age group later this year.

ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky

"This would be something very helpful for us all to incorporate into our lifestyle choices."

It is the choice Ms Pollard and her powerlifting friends in Castlemaine, central Victoria, have made.

They call themselves "the ladies who lift" and they meet regularly to pump iron for mental wellbeing and physical strength.

Supportive environment

When Anne Forden, also 68, lost her father four years ago, her depression and anxiety became "pretty debilitating".

The following years were spent helping her mother move into care and never finding the time to deal with her grief.

"It had just got out of hand," Ms Forden said.

She said that when she returned from an overseas trip she just "fell in a heap".

For the next three years she underwent counselling and under GP supervision unwillingly took anti-depressants.

Anne Forden smiles in a gymnasium with gym weights in the background.
Anne Forden says powerlifting has become her anti-depressant as she has come off medication.

ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky

But it was when she started powerlifting nine months ago that things really began to change for the retired schoolteacher.

She reduced her medication and instead became "hooked" on weightlifting.

"I was determined I needed to do the right things to maintain my mental health," Ms Forden said.

She said she loved the more supportive environment of the powerlifting group, compared to other gym sessions she had been to in the past.

"It's much more focused, it's much more challenging, it's much more exciting and there's much more support," she said.

"Everyone else is excited when you get your personal best."

A sense of achievement

Roz Avent squatting while holding a five kilogram weight.
Roz Avent, 69, took up powerlifting nine weeks ago and can dead lift 30 kilograms.

ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky

Fellow lady who lifts artist Roz Avent, 69, said she had arrived at a "fork in the road" when she returned exhausted and "totally wiped out" also from a holiday overseas.

"A degree of decrepitude had slowly crept in," Ms Avent said.

While she was still able to "live within her world" anything extra had become a struggle.

With arthritis in both her shoulders and knees, even walking had become uncomfortable and painful.

"Since about 65 there's been a slow incremental loss of fitness and strength," Ms Avent said.

Roz took up powerlifting eight weeks ago and is practicing her position for the bench press.
Lifting for life: Roz Avent bench presses at the gym.

ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky

At a friend's suggestion the former dancer took up powerlifting which she conceded was not quite her "style".

She is only eight weeks into her training but she can deadlift 30 kilograms and feels a sense of achievement.

"I notice that I can lift more, I'm stronger and I feel quite energised by the end of the day," Ms Avent said.

Body is so much stronger

Ex-nurse Trish White in the middle of a dead lift.
Ex-nurse Trish White can dead lift close to 50 kilograms and squat 37.5 kilograms.

ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky

Farmer's daughter Trish White can comfortably lift haybales and sheep on her 91-year-old father's farm, thanks to her weightlifting regime.

"I am astounded that I can actually do so much, considering the injuries that I had," Ms White said.

The 67-year-old had sustained injuries to her shoulders and lower back after more than 40 years of nursing.

Trish White getting her weights ready for her dead lift.
Trish White says powerlifting classes have helped her work on the farm lifting hay bales and sheep.

ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky

Looking to build up her strength in addition to increased flexibility and muscle tone she gave powerlifting "a go" and now deadlifts close to 50 kilograms.

And there's no stopping Ms Pollard, whose goal is to break a national record for powerlifting.

"It is not just the body that feels "amazing", Ms Pollard said she was feeling better "all over".

"It makes you feel so much better because you know you're in control and your body is so much stronger and that overflows into your day-to-day life," she said.